Towards a New Christian Sexual Ethics in the Light of HIV/AIDS

By Zimmermann, Armin | International Review of Mission, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Towards a New Christian Sexual Ethics in the Light of HIV/AIDS


Zimmermann, Armin, International Review of Mission


Abstract

According to various statistics, about 90% of the HIV infections in Africa, south of the Sahara are got through unprotected sexual intercourse. This clearly suggests that the key to a reduction of the HIV infection rate is a change in our sexual behaviour. In this article, therefore, I want to propose some guidelines "Towards a New Christian Sexual Ethics in the Liqht of HIV/AIDS", and take into consideration various aspects of an African context. Next to upholding the positive value of our sexuality as part of God's good creation, we have to empower women to determine for themselves if, when, how and with whom they want to have sensual contact. We have to emphasise values like intimacy, love, commitment and responsibility, and we should discourage casual sex and prostitution. We may also have to reconsider the relationship between sexual relationships and activities and marriage. While confirming marriage as the ideal context of sexual relationships and activities, we may encourage people to practice their sexuality only within long-term permanent relationships that should be characterised by the principles stated above.

However, since we know that humans are not perfect, we have to reckon with people who are either unwilling or unable to follow the proposed guidelines, and at this point we, as churches and Christians, cannot avoid the discussion about condoms. According to my point of view, there is no alternative than to advise those unwilling or unable people always to consistently and correctly use condoms, while at the same time we should encourage them to change their behaviour.

One of the greatest problems to introducing the proposed guidelines is certainly the widespread difficulty there is to talk about sexual matters. This is something that we have to overcome in order to save people from dying, and to lead them into real loving relationships.

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Introduction

At the end of 2001 I was designing and preparing a one semester's course titled, "A Christian Response to HIV/AIDS", which I was going to offer at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kumba, Cameroon, the institution where I presently teach. I had read that, according to various statistics, about 90% of the HW infections in Africa, south of the Sahara were got through Unprotected sexual intercourse. This clearly suggested that the key to a reduction in the HIV infection rate lay in a change of our sexual behaviour. It therefore seemed necessary to include a section into the planned course, entitled, "Towards a New Christian Sexual Ethics in the Light of HIV/AIDS". (1)

People may ask why I think we need a new Christian sexual ethics. Would it not be sufficient just to re-emphasise or introduce again traditional Christian sexual ethics? I do not think so, and for two reasons. Firstly, I think some elements of our traditional Christian sexual ethics are somehow outdated. They are no longer adequate to guide all aspects of our sexual behaviour, when we consider the changed environment in which we are living in this 21st century. (2) Secondly, HIV/AIDS is confronting us with new challenges, to which we have to find new but genuine Christian responses. The situation has changed so that our sexual behaviour is not only a matter of leading more or less good Christian lives but also has become a question of life and death. To develop a new Christian sexual ethics should therefore be of utmost priority because it is a question of survival. (3) However, a new Christian sexual ethic should not be based on the fear of AIDS but on the conviction that "faithful sexual loving (can be) attractive to people and is based on values accessible to the thinking of ordinary men and women." (4) Following, I will propose what I consider to be some of such an ethic's basic elements.

1. Sexuality as part of God's good creation

From the Old Testament perspective we clearly have to uphold the positive value of our sexuality. …

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